Hamid Karzai and Peace in Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai believes that his government has to negotiate with the Taliban in order to win the war.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai believes that the war in his country can still be won. In an interview with ABC’s This Week on Sunday, he reiterated support for attempts to rid his administration of corruption and diminish the questionable role which private contractors play in providing security in Afghanistan.

Karzai expressed his willingness to talk with those elements of the Taliban which had no ties with Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations and would accept the Afghan constitution as well as “the progress that we have achieved in the past so many years.” Asked how successful his government has been so far in getting the Taliban to negotiate, Karzai said that there are “individual contacts with some Taliban elements” but that it’s “not yet a formal process.”

Later on the program, PBS correspondent Judy Woodruff quoted an Afghan official as saying that they wouldn’t be negotiating with the Taliban if it weren’t for the imminent withdrawal of American combat forces starting next year. “They know that they are in a tough negotiating position,” she said, “because unless this war goes better and unless they can prove that the Afghan government can run this country,” they have no case to make — “and they’re very aware of that.”

Last month, Thomas Barnett warned that to compromise with the Taliban would not only jeopardize the future of Afghanistan but damage the international position of the United States as well.

Besides signaling surrender, such a move would offend India, already fretting over this administration’s apparent lack of commitment. Barnett stressed that “any deal that sees us choosing fragmented, impoverished Pakistan over rising, increasingly middle-class India is — by definition — strategically unsound.” Fareed Zakaria explained why in December of last year:

Obama must keep in mind that South Asia is a tar pit filled with failed and dysfunctional states, save for one long-established democracy of 1.2 billion people that is the second-fastest-growing major economy in the world, a check on China’s rising ambitions, and a natural ally of the United States. The prize is the relationship with India. The booby prize is governing Afghanistan.

Zakaria does believe that the Taliban won’t ever go away entirely however. “Because it represents some element of the Pahstun community,” he said on his CNN program GPS last month. “So we’ve got to make political deals with some elements of the Taliban.” If the United States cannot strike such a deal, he predicted, “all the troops and all the time will not help.”

Responding to fears that a settlement with the Taliban might lead to an erosion of newly gained civil rights in Afghanistan, particularly for women, President Karzai on This Week promised that “the gains that we have made” are not only kept, “but promoted and advanced further.”

Karzai disagreed with his Pakistani counterpart who believes that the battle for the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people is lost already. “I believe the campaign against terrorism is absolutely winnable,” he said. “We have to win, but in order for us to do that, we must end the business as usual and we must begin to reexamine whether we are doing everything correctly.” He specifically mentioned providing security and protection while further reducing civilian deaths.

A cornerstone of the president’s attempts at curbing corruption in his government is the disbandment of private security firms operating in Afghanistan. Karzai insisted that these companies continually undermine national security forces and are a major source of corruption and harassment. “Some of them,” he added, “turn into terrorist groups at nighttime.” What is more, “they are wasting billions of dollars in resources.”

Karzai conceded that exceptions would be made for security contractors working for foreign governments and aid organizations but once coalition forces begin pulling out next year, the rules “will definitely not allow them to be on the roads, in the bazaars, in the streets, on the highways, and we will not allow them to provide protection to supply lines,” said the president.

Last week, General David Petraeus went out of his way to defend the Afghan president and his attempts to reconcile with part of the Taliban insurgency. Asked by CBS’ Katie Couric on Face the Nation whether Karzai wasn’t part of the problem, Petraeus said that Afghanistan has “a checkered past when it comes to issues such as corruption.” In his interview with Meet the Press, the general was similarly cautious, stressing that Karzai is the president “of a sovereign country” and that Americans need to “understand” that.

“In many cases,” said Petraeus, speaking with NBC’s David Gregory, indeed, in “most cases,” Karzai’s government and the United States have “converging objectives, but in some cases we see things a little bit differently.” That may be something of an understatement but Petraeus is correct to point out that it’s only to be expected. As for Karzai’s efforts at fighting corruption, Petraeus said, “If you look at the number of individuals who have been either fired or arrested and tried for corruption, it is a very growing list.” He further praised Karzai’s pledge to disband private security firms in his interview with Face the Nation.

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